Thus slowly, one by one,

Its quaint events were hammered out –

And now the tale is done,

And home we steer, a merry crew,

Beneath the setting sun.

–Lewis Carroll, “All in The Golden Afternoon”


It’s a golden evening, and the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean as the MSC Divina departs the Port of Miami. Jam Cruise has begun, and Nikki Glaspie is here.

The drummer, who is currently a member of The Nth Power, Punkadelic, Snarky Puppy and Trouble No More, is sipping tea from a small white porcelain cup. She places the sipped beverage on a matching saucer, and down the rabbit hole, we go…

In the following conversation, Glaspie pieces together her past to make sense of her current place in music: Tracing back her early gig experiences while attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music, the collaborators who helped her get to where she is, and a swift fall into the jam music scene. Along the way, we touch on improvisation, the Grateful Dead, and other core topics of our community.

Your early exposure to music is intertwined with the church. What was your first taste of secular music, and what did you think of it?

The first time I really heard secular music was on a car ride with my dad. He played The Gap Band, the O’Jays, Rage Against the Machine, and Van Halen’s 1984. And I think Eve 6 was in there, too, randomly. He played me “Hot for Teacher,” and I totally freaked out. [Laughs].I had never heard anything like that before. So that was my first exposure to secular music besides what I heard in high school.

It was the greatest thing ever. But when I got to music school, that was really when I started to dive into–I guess you could say–what everyone else is exposed to or may have been exposed to at an early age. Especially musicians. You hear jazz in some form or another, even watching TV or watching a movie, you’ll hear some Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, or something.

When I got to school, that’s really when I did the deep dive of–not necessarily jazz–but Pat Metheny. Pat Metheny was a big one for me when I got to Berklee. And Return to Forever. Those were the two bands I listened to obsessively for like 24 hours a day. [Laughs]

What was it about those two bands in particular that kept you listening?

The level of harmony, melody, and rhythm that was happening at the same time. I don’t know if that will ever be heard again in that manner.

Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea are pioneers. That was the first time that any of that had ever happened. I was intrigued by it, and I was also obsessed with salsa and Latin jazz. Horacio “El Negro” Hernández was my favorite drummer.

The high school that I went to was a technology high school. And there was a computer per every two students in the school–I never saw that many, but supposedly there were 300 or 400 computers. We used to go to this website, it was called That was pretty much where I learned about other drummers. From there, I went on to listen to different bands. But I saw Horacio on that website.

Did you cross paths with Hernández?

I went to percussion week at Berklee College of Music, and he was one of the teachers. And I had the honor of meeting Horacio, the dude I was obsessed with in high school–he taught me how to play left foot clave. When I met him, I cried.

And then, once I started school, he came back. and at that point, I had gone to the salsa club. There was a club not far from Berklee called Sophia’s. It was where all the kids from Uruguay, Colombia, Paraguay, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, where they all got together and played salsa and Latin jazz. So, I would go there and just hang out.

One day, he walked in, and I was like, “Oh my god, he’s here.” And then my friend, Pablo—he band’s drummer–-was like, “Yeah, you wanna play?” so he let me play for Horatio, and then we hung out. I’m like 18 at this point.

That night, we hung out, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was awesome. we just talked about music. And, you know, his English was OK, it wasn’t amazing, and my Spanish was not that great. But we were able to communicate. Music is universal. So is weed.

Facts. Francisco Mela was another influential figure at this point in your education. Correct?

Yes. He was also from Cuba. And he was like, “You have to come down to Wally’s. Come to Wally’s because I play there.” He played there on Thursday nights. Again, it was 21 and up. I went there a couple of times, and they wouldn’t let me in. And then the fourth time, I’m like, “Hey, man. It’s the same chick from last week. Still here for the music.”

And I was like, “My teacher told me to come down.” But it was three brothers that ran Wally’s: Lloyd, Paul and Frank. And they all had different nights. And Wally’s is a historic jazz club. Mingus played in there and Miles Davis and a lot of incredible musicians.

If walls could talk.

Yeah, totally. That was my home base for learning everything I apply in music today. Just learning how to perform for an audience. [And] it was really where I discovered funk.

Eventually, Latin funk night turned into Fusion night. Thursdays were straight Latin jazz, and Fridays and Saturdays were swing. And Sunday, they would do a jazz jam session. So kids could come in from… I think it was six to nine– something like that. They would have an actual jazz jam in the club. That is where I met Kras. That’s where I met a lot of people. But mainly, Kras and Sam Kininger were my introduction to this scene.

Even though most of the bands I’m in are not jambands, we’re still in the scene.

To what extent has improvisation played a role in your approach?

In some of the other bands I’m in, it’s more structured improvisation. It’s like, “This is where it will go.” Not just this whole thing is an improvisation like this entire thing is a jam. Basically, I learned all of that at Wally’s, too. Just the kind of the format of the form of songs: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge. Whatever, now we do a solo. Now, the improvisation happens. Now, you have to move with the improvisation and try to mold it and build it. Not just the soloist is improvising, but you are as well.

I am a funkateer, I’m also a jazzer. I play so many different styles of music because I love it all.

To that end, what have you been listening to lately?

Actually, right now, I’m listening to Grateful Dead, and that’s because I have to play it. [Laughs.]

There was only one like them. And I have the deepest respect for what they did. There are no rules in music, but a lot of people put themselves in this box because they’re like, “Oh, I can’t play in A flat on top of an F major cause it doesn’t fit.” Whatever… you can do whatever you want, if it sounds good to you. So, I appreciate what they were searching for.

It finally clicked with me a couple of years ago when I was at Roots Rock Revival. I was playing double drums with Pete Lavezzoli, and it finally clicked. I was like, “This is what the Dead is. It’s the journey. It’s not the destination. It’s not where you’re going. It’s the actual trip of getting there,” which is the coolest thing about the music. And that’s what people can still connect with and connect to when they were a touring band, the original lineup; they connected to them looking, searching, for the moment. I feel like a lot of, especially where I come from, it’s like every moment is the moment. I’m not looking for the moment. I’m creating the moment right now. This is happening. So that’s kind of what their whole thing was and they didn’t care if they fell on their face, which is brave.

Your resume is stacked with experience. Are there any artists you have yet to collaborate with, but would like to?

I saw Meshell Ndegeocello a couple of times. In my humble opinion, she is the greatest bass player walking the earth. I played with her when I was in school, but I’d like to really dig in. I always wanted to play with Sting. I just love him, and I think he’s great. But probably number one on my list is the Foo Fighters. 

Dave Grohl was one of my influences in high school. I think I was a sophomore when In Utero came out. It was some of the heaviest stuff I had heard “Milk It” and “Scentless Apprentice.” I’d heard some heavy stuff before that, too. That was the same time that Smashing Pumpkins put out, “The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning,” you know what, I would love to play with them too, but It would be kind of hard, Jimmy Chamberlain, that’s his gig, he’s been in the band since the beginning. Who else? Bootsy Collins, cause it’s Bootsy Collins. I’d love to play with Bootsy Collins. [And] Stevie Wonder.

Looking ahead, what’s on your agenda for the summer?

I am playing a bunch of festivals with The Nth Power. Punkadelick is not too active because we’re putting out an album in either September or October. It’s getting mixed right now. And I’m playing a little bit with Trouble No More and then Super Sonic Shorties; we’ve got a couple of things. [I’m] trying to get that band out more.

I’m glad you mentioned Super Sonic Shorties. Can you tell folks about that endeavor?

It’s so funny because I wrote a note on my phone this morning: “I want to bring Super Sonic Shorties on the boat next year.” [Laughs.]

It’s really a collective. Because I have so many incredible female musician friends, and it seems like at one point or another, all of us have been in an all-female band–it’s like a thing. I wanted to really just have fun and play with my homegirls.